Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Swamp Chickens

I spent a while watching this Common Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus) family at a nearby park earlier this week. I was hoping they’d swim closer but the parents were careful to keep their brood away from the shore where potential predators might lurk.

Formerly known as the Common Moorhen, this bird can walk atop water plants, climb into trees, and, despite lacking webbed toes, it is a good swimmer. But it is a lousy flyer (hey, it can’t be good at everything).

Compared to its close relative, the American Coot, the Common Gallinule sports a jaunty splash of color; from its yellow feet (the second part of its binomial translates from Greek as yellow foot) to the bright red shield and bill on the adult birds.

Note the small spur on the outstretched wing of the chick in the second photo. It is used to help the young climb through vegetation.

Black Creeper

Though this bird was rather shy (and I failed to get a decent photo) I was fortunate to see the namesake coloration on the underside of this Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). According to the Audubon website this species is well-adjusted to city living, taking special advantage of public parks, which is where I found this one.

The generic name, melanerpes, was derived from ancient Greek and translates as black creeper. An apt description, as all 24 members of this group have black and white markings and they “creep” along tree trunks foraging for insects and other tasty morsels.

 

Alone Again

Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)

This Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius alticola) is the larger of the two subspecies. The smaller one, Vireo solitarius solitarius, migrates down to Mexico for the winter before returning to breeding grounds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Canada.

As you can guess from my photo, the former chooses to overwinter along the Gulf Coast, a super long commute from their home territory in Georgia. Why go the extra distance if you don’t need to?!

As the binomial suggests, these birds do not flock together. At least not with their own kind (though they can occasionally be seen hanging out with sparrows).

 

 

 

Western Palm Warbler

 

I encountered a few birds during my recent foray to an inland park. I first spotted this one hopping on the ground but missed a shot at it when a some kids ran by and flushed it. Disappointed, I turned away and was distracted by a nosy squirrel.

(By now everyone should hear the word “squirrel” in Dug’s voice from the movie Up.)

But I digress. I was given another go at this bird when it flew up into a nearby tree. I didn’t get great shots and from this one I would’ve had difficulty identifying the little bugger.

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Thankfully, the ensuing shot caught a different angle which simplified it for me, as the yellow undertail coverts are distinctive on a Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum). One of the many reasons I take so many photos when I’m out and about, I just never know which snap is going to give me what I need.

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Palm Warbler, St. Petersburg, Florida February 2020

Turkey Wing Shell

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Turkey Wing, Treasure Island, Florida February 2020

Commonly found on my beach, the Turkey Wing Ark Clam (Arca zebra) averages about 2 inches long and was named for its resemblance for a couple objects. The first part of the name I understand, with the brown and white stripes it does somewhat resemble an outstretched turkey wing.

The ark part is more of a reach for me. Apparently, the long flat section near the hinge reminded people of the deck of an old wooden boat, like Noah’s ark. Umm, yeah, I’ll have one of whatever those people were drinking!

Rosary Pea

A bright flash of red caught my eye as I wandered a nearby park this afternoon. Upon closer inspection, the hard, cardinal-colored seeds reminded me of those from a plant I grew up with in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona; Coral Bean (Erythrina flabelliformis).

The Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius) and Coral Bean do have a couple similarities;  both are legumes and the interior of both their seeds is highly toxic. A major difference is that the Rosary Pea is not native to the states and the level of toxicity far surpasses that of the Coral Bean.

In fact, the abrin contained within is twice as potent as ricin (the chemical weapon of choice for assassinating people critical of the Russian government). As such, abrin is listed as a controlled substance under the Terrorism Act.

This should come as no surprise, but in 2014 a Florida man was arrested for selling abrin on an underground, terrorist website. It makes me wonder, do Florida men take an oath or something? “If it ain’t insanely stupid it ain’t worth doing!”

Now, how does something so dangerous get an innocuous sounding name like Rosary Pea? Well, it is quite attractive and the seeds have long been used for human ornamentation, including rosaries. In the West Indies the seeds are still worn to ward off evil spirits. Another, more utilitarian usage has been as a standard weight measurement since the seeds are so consistently sized.

As you can see, I collected a few (for decorative purposes only, I promise).

 

Noisy Buggers

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Nanday Parakeets, Treasure Island, Florida February 2020

I heard these two Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday) before I saw them while walking to the beach this afternoon. Please excuse the grainy photo, I only had my mobile with me. Their perching talk is aptly described as grating chatter. The two mockingbirds on the wire below them (not pictured) were decidedly unimpressed with their vocalizations.

Native to South America there is a breeding population here in the St. Petersburg area, resulting from either intentional or accidental releases as part of the pet trade. The first wild sightings were recorded back in 1969, so they’ve been around for quite some time.

For obvious reasons, it also goes by the common name Black-hooded Parakeet. Now, those of you who know me, can you figure out what’s bothering me about the common name and Latin binomial? I can’t find an answer and it’s driving me nuts!

Beach Bling

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Jingle Shells, Treasure Island, Florida February 2020

I am fortunate that the northern portion of beach near me is littered with shells (there are very few shells if I choose to walk south). I have to control my urge to collect all of them but I can’t seem to resist these sparkly, lustrous ones.

Jingle shells (Anomia simplex) come in various colors; milky white, shades of yellow and gold, coppery orange, and even silvery black. Lucky for them they are too small (averaging 1-2″) and bitter tasting for humans, so they are not threatened or endangered, unlike many of their bivalve kin.

The shiny, thin shells are often used decoratively and make a pleasant tinkling sound when strung together (hence the common name).